Pimlico is known for its garden squares and Regency architecture.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Manor of Ebury was divided up and leased by the Crown to servants or favourites. In 1623, James I sold the freehold of Ebury - the land was sold on several more times until it came into the possession of heiress Mary Davies in 1666.
Mary’s dowry not only included modern-day Pimlico and Belgravia, but also most of what is now Mayfair and Knightsbridge. She was much pursued and in 1677 at the age of twelve she married Sir Thomas Grosvenor. The Grosvenors were a family of Norman descent long seated at Eaton Hall in Cheshire who until this auspicious marriage were only of local consequence in the county of Cheshire. Through the development and good management of this land, the Grosvenors acquired enormous wealth.
At some point in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, the area ceased to be known as Ebury (or ’The Five Fields’) and gained the name by which it is now known. According to folklore, it received its name from Ben Pimlico, famous for his nut-brown ale. His tea-gardens were near Hoxton, and the road to them from here was termed Pimlico Path, so that what is now called Pimlico was so named from the popularity of the Hoxton resort.
By the nineteenth century, and as a result of an increase in demand for property in the previously unfashionable West End of London following the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London, Pimlico had become ripe for development. In 1825, Thomas Cubitt was contracted by Lord Grosvenor to develop Pimlico. The land up to this time had been marshy but was reclaimed using soil excavated during the construction of St Katharine Docks.
Cubitt developed Pimlico as a grid of handsome white stucco terraces. The largest and most opulent houses were built along St George’s Drive and Belgrave Road, the two principal streets, and Eccleston, Warwick and St George’s Squares. Lupus Street contained similarly grand houses, as well as shops and, until the early twentieth century, a hospital for women and children. Smaller-scale properties, typically of three storeys, line the side streets. An 1877 newspaper article described Pimlico as "genteel, sacred to professional men… not rich enough to luxuriate in Belgravia proper, but rich enough to live in private houses." Its inhabitants were "more lively than in Kensington… and yet a cut above Chelsea, which is only commercial."
Although the area was dominated by the well-to-do middle and upper-middle classes as late as Booth’s 1889 Map of London Poverty, parts of Pimlico are said to have declined significantly by the 1890s. When Rev Gerald Olivier moved to the neighbourhood in 1912 with his family, including the young Laurence Olivier, to minister to the parishioners of St Saviour, it was part of a venture to west London ’slums’ that had previously taken the family to the depths of Notting Hill.
Through the late nineteenth century, Pimlico saw the construction of several Peabody Estates, charitable housing projects designed to provide affordable, quality homes.
Proximity to the Houses of Parliament made Pimlico a centre of political activity. Prior to 1928, the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress shared offices on Eccleston Square, and it was here in 1926 that the General Strike was organised.
In the mid-1930s Pimlico saw a second wave of development with the construction of Dolphin Square, a self-contained ’city’ of 1250 up-market flats built on the site formerly occupied by Cubitt’s building works. Completed in 1937, it quickly became popular with MPs and public servants. It was home to fascist Oswald Mosley until his arrest in 1940, and the headquarters of the Free French for much of the Second World War.
Pimlico survived the war with its essential character intact, although parts sustained significant bomb damage. Through the 1950s these areas were the focus of large-scale redevelopment as the Churchill Gardens and Lillington and Longmoore Gardens estates, and many of the larger Victorian houses were converted to hotels and other uses.
To provide affordable and efficient heating to the residents of the new post-war developments, Pimlico became one of the few places in the UK to have a district heating system installed.
In 1953, the Second Duke of Westminster sold the part of the Grosvenor estate on which Pimlico is built.
Pimlico was connected to the underground in 1972 as a late addition to the Victoria Line. Following the designation of a conservation area in 1968 (extended in 1973 and again in 1990), the area has seen extensive regeneration. Successive waves of development have given Pimlico an interesting social mix, combining exclusive restaurants and residences with Westminster City Council run facilities.
Notable residents of Pimlico have included politician Winston Churchill, designer Laura Ashley, philosopher Swami Vivekananda, actor Laurence Olivier, illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley, Kenyan nationalist Jomo Kenyatta and inventor of lawn tennis Major Walter Wingfield.